The newly elected Laurel City Council was sworn into office Monday evening, welcoming two newcomers and the return of three incumbents after contested elections on Nov. 7.
Carl DeWalt and Keith Sydnor were elected to Wards 1 and 2, respectively, joining incumbents Valerie Nicholas and Frederick Smalls. DeWalt, a former Laurel police officer, was unsuccessful in his run for Ward 1 in 2015, while this was Sydnor’s first run for office.
At-large Councilman Michael Leszcz was re-elected to his 11th term on the council and was elected council president on Nov. 13.
Ward 2 Councilwoman Donna Crary did not seek re-election.
On Monday, DeWalt said it felt “surreal” to become a councilman and he’s excited to work with his fellow council members and follow through on his campaign promises for a safer Main Street.
“I’m humbled by the citizens to be selected,” DeWalt said. “I hope we can get some of the things done that the citizens want in our community [and] we can get started off on the right foot.”
When asked about working with the new council, Nicholas said the next two years will be “interesting.” Nicholas acknowledged the departure of longtime Ward 1 Councilman H. Edward Ricks, who was ousted in the election, falling 16 votes behind DeWalt.
“Eddie and I worked very well together, so I’m definitely going to miss him,” Nicholas said. “He’ll still be around and active with issues in the city, so that’s great.”
Ricks, who was seeking a fourth term, said Monday he was “still shocked” by the results and is working with Mayor Craig Moe to wrap up his ongoing committee work. Ricks said he plans to run for a Ward 1 seat again in 2019.
“It’s fair to say that [the council] is going to need some breathing room to adjust,” Ricks said. “I’m going to be there to support however I can. … The other council people will have to step up to the plate now that they’ve won, make good on their promises and negotiate them with the administration to see what they can do to make them happen.”
At Monday’s swearing in, Mayor Craig Moe and council members thanked Ricks and Crary for their work and presented them with their reserved council member parking signs.
“There is enough experience on the current council to help the new members along,” Crary said. “It's a whole new area of language, code and rules to learn for the new members. It's always hard to realize it's not about the individual but the team. My advice always is just be a sponge and soak up all the knowledge you can. As for me, new adventures await, but first, I need a weekend off.”
Following a close race for the two Ward 1 seats, the absentee and provisional ballot count on Nov. 8 did not change the unofficial outcomes. In Ward 1, Nicholas, with 480 votes, and DeWalt, 467 votes, were elected in what city officials called one of its closest races.
Ricks received 451 votes.
Leszcz said the voters made their decision and the council will “keep moving ahead.”
“I can work with anybody. …The winners are up to the public,” Leszcz said. “They have to assess who is going to do the best job for them for the next two years and I think we’re going to do a great job.”
In describing himself as “a consensus builder,” Smalls said he and Sydnor will meet one-on-one in the near future to discuss their hopes for Ward 2 and the city, overall. Smalls said he’s “anxious” for the new council to begin its work.
“I think Keith and I have very good chemistry,” Smalls said. “We have a lot of issues coming before us that we have to examine and make some decisions on. I’m looking forward to us continuing the business of the city.”
“It’s an honor to serve my community as a councilman,” Sydnor added.
At-large Coucilman Leszcz was elected with 806 votes, defeating Jeffrey Mills, who received 627 votes. In Ward 2, Smalls, 382 votes, was re-elected to an eighth term and Sydnor, 454 votes, was elected to his first term over candidates Adrian Rousseau, 242 votes, and Thomas Matthews, 271.
Matthews said the results “are what they are” and that he was proud of his “hard-fought campaign.”
“My voters didn’t come out,” he said. “I don’t have any interjections.”
Despite the outcome, Matthews said he felt better about his second campaign for office, having previously run for a Ward 2 seat in 2013, and plans to run again.